Monday, 24 June 2013

Decisions, decisions....

It's been a week of decisions - one of which has been in the air for a while, and one which followed an unexpected turn of events.

The first of these is the difficult decision to cancel my upcoming English Channel swim. This was scheduled for the week beginning 15th July, and I have been concerned for some time about the unseasonably low water temperatures, which are still hovering stubbornly around 12.5 C (54.5 F). With only 3 weeks to go, it is extremely unlikely that temperatures will rise to a swimmable range (for me). Without doubt, there are some extremely hardy swimmers out there who can do such a challenging swim in those temperatures, but I am not one of them. Furthermore, because of the unexpected change in my personal circumstances and my pending relocation, I couldn't put myself on standby for the summer because I need to be able to plan my time, so am not able to postpone the swim and wait for a stray slot. It had to be that tide or nothing.

It was a very difficult decision for me to make, and no doubt some will find it rather feeble. But I realised over the last week that I was starting to dread the swim, and felt trapped - not because I don't want to do a Channel swim (I am otherwise very well trained, good for the distance, and was excited about it), but because of the nagging certainty that I was very unlikely to be successful under the current conditions. I felt that I couldn't back out of the swim, but increasingly didn't want to enter into a swim that I was very unlikely to be able to complete and almost certainly wouldn't enjoy. This latter is also no small consideration - it's supposed to be a leisure activity, after all. With two unsuccessful swims out of two so far this year, the thought of the hat-trick was hard to swallow, and my rather scary brush with hypothermia in Mallorca taught me that there are some very real risks here that are not to be taken lightly. With this weighing down on me, I've not been sleeping well, and then fell ill with some kind of non-descript viral thing that I'm sure is partly just being a bit run down, post-MIMS, but also reflects this underlying stress. And then, in a revelatory moment, I realised that I could just put a stop to it; that while not swimming has some costs, it's not compulsory, and it's okay to pull the plug. Nothing bad happens. So I emailed my pilot to cancel my swim and felt instantly relieved and lighter. And I slept like a baby for the first time in a week last night. A hard decision, but the right one for me, I am absolutely certain.

And so to the second decision - related to the first, but independent of it. After MIMS, I was resigned to the outcome and felt reasonably confident that I would be able to live with a good day of swimming, in spite of the final result. I knew that I wouldn't be able to go back at least for the next few years, and was quite happy just to leave it, and the Triple Crown, be. But then, just as I had reached some kind of equilibrium over the whole affair, an email dropped into my inbox from NYC Swim offering a re-match - a "quiet swim" in late August for those who recorded DNF / boat-assisted finishes earlier this month. So now I had a dilemma - enjoy what I had already achieved and move on, or give in to the lure of "unfinished business" and take this unexpected opportunity to get it done? Perhaps inevitably, especially in light of the decision about the Channel, I have thrown my hat in the ring for the August swim. I want to end the season on a success, and all things being equal, I know that I can complete Manhattan. It may be a huge mistake, and of course, there's no guarantee that it will end in success; I could still end the season with three failures for three. But I think it's worth a go (and this time Peter gets to come along too, which will make it extra fun).

So those are my two decisions: a cancelled Channel swim and an unexpected second time around at MIMS. This is not how I imagined my summer would be, but it's an unpredictable business. I've learned a lot about failure and unpredictability this year, and think that I will be a better swimmer for it.

Good luck to all the English Channel swimmers this year - I'll be following obsessively and rooting for you all. And to my fellow 'boat assisted' MIMS swimmers, I hope to see some of you in New York later in the summer.


  1. a rollercoaster blog - temperature is climbing and I believe you would have touched the Cap, but fully support you and look forward to some training

  2. You are rapidly becoming very sensible...just thought I'd mention....
    Handed in my entry today for Double Windermere on 10th August - ' only' 195 GBP to enter - why not do that instead?! You have the fitness and should be warmer than 12!

  3. I know, Mark - it's a bit worrying really. I think it must be my age!

    Good plan for Windermere - is that the BLDSA event? The one-way is a key element of my back-up plan - if MIMS goes pear-shaped again, I'm going to come back and do Windermere, or one of the other lakes. I'm going to end this season on a successful swim if it kills me!

  4. As a swimmer who is very well acquainted with failure, I think you have made the right decision. I wish I'd cancelled my first attempt at the Channel a couple of years ago as I was hating every second of my entire existence. It really isn't worth that. I also think I would have got across the second time if I didn't have that massive weight on my back.

    The channel will always be there...


    1. Hi James
      I think it's very hard to know when / if to pull the plug, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think that "hating every second" is never going to be good. Hats off to you for persisting even while you felt so awful. It's all a learning experience.

      I may or may not swim the Channel again in the future - there are lots of other swims out there too. But for now, I'm glad that I stopped when I did. I've been incredibly nervous before every big swim I've ever done, and often wish that it was over so that I wouldn't have to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing how the day would end. But although I do sometimes dread hard or very cold training sessions, I have never before dreaded an approaching long swim and am usually counting the days for the fun to start. I am glad that I listened to that - I feel completely liberated now, and all of my excitement about swimming has come flooding back. For that alone, it's worth it.

      Hope you're well.

  5. Very sensible decision Karen - in marathon swimming it is good policy to follow your gut feeling.

    1. Thank Milko - disappointing, but I'm pretty sure I've made the right choice this time.

  6. A nice write up Karen, you are right to go with your thoughts.

    I swam the last leg of my Triple Crown in October starting at 11:20 Sunday night. The Friday before I went to swim with my observers at La Jolla Cove San Diego and some how managed to hurt my elbow not apparent at the time but when I woke up on Saturday I could not bend my elbow at all it was inflamed and painful. I sat distressed with ice on it for 3 hrs straight believing that it would respond but no it didn't. So I too had to make decision on the swim, it was the worst 24 Hrs of my life as my observers were travelling 3 Hrs from SD to LA and then to take my whole team ( Which had travelled over from South Africa ) and the crew of the boat Outrider over night to Catalina Island only to possibly swim for 2 to 3 or 4 Hrs.
    I refused to do that to everyone and all the time and money must go up in smoke. I warned the observers and told them that I would do a early Sunday swim and let them know. I was lucky and felt that I could make it. There are times that you have to make a decision and stick by it or go into the swim and failure is nearly certain before you even leave shore and I think so much of you for the decisions that you have made.
    I too have been watching the channel temp as a few of our swimmers will be making attempts one of which is on the same tide that you were on.
    I have swum Robben Island to Capetown in 10 to 8 degree water and did really well BUT to try the channel in 15 is a BIG ask that I would share your reservations and any lower I would cancel.
    Chances of it hitting 15 for your tide the way it's going now look bleak.
    Wishing you all the BEST for your next swims.

    1. Hey Roger - thanks for this. This sport really does have any number of ways to side-swipe our plans, doesn't it! An injury so late in the day is horrible - that's a tough call to make. Many congrats on making the swim.

      A fairly steady 15 is really my bottom line for a long swim like the Channel. In other years, and on the averages, it's been in this region, but like you, I just don't have the faith that it will get there this time because of the crazy weather we've been having. I could have waited to make my decision, I guess, but I feel such relief at the choice that I've made that I don't have any regrets - and won't even if temps to do rise considerably in the next few weeks (which I hope they do for all the other swimmers).

      Onwards and upwards...if I make MIMS second time around, I'll end the year with the Triple Crown in the bag, and that will do me fine.

      K x

  7. You Go Girl !!! I'll be in New York swimming Ederle on the 18th August if you around give me a shout we can catch up

    1. Ederle Swim - very exciting!!! Hopefully we'll overlap in NY - would be great to catch up. K


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.